After a soul-crushing, 1-point loss in Green Bay last Sunday, the Falcons return for an action-packed game against Washington at the Georgia Dome. For once, the center of all the controversy rests on the visiting team, given their choice of quarterback, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less intriguing for the Falcons. Let’s take a look, long look.
Opponent - Washington Redskins (3-10, 1-5 on road)
Time/TV - 1:00 PM ET, FOX
Falcons Offense vs. Washington Defense
Normally, the main “focus” of the Falcons roster is with their offense, as it certainly possesses any and all of the star power with the team. This week isn’t like that (as we’ll see), but Matt Ryan and company have an extremely favorable match-up against Washington.
The ‘Skins enter the game as the league’s 27th-rated pass defense, allowing over 256 yards per game through the air, and that’s obviously a great thing for Atlanta. Roddy White has been visibly healthier and more explosive in recent weeks (which has been mirrored by a jump in production), and even in the absence of Julio Jones, Ryan has more than enough targets in White, Harry Douglas (who’s been quietly great with the exception of last week in Green Bay), and Tony Gonzalez.
On the ground, things aren’t quite as favorable, as Washington ranks 19th against the run (115 yards per game), but it’s still a subpar unit. Steven Jackson, much like Roddy White, has been much better lately, with 218 yards and 3 TD’s over his past 3 games, and even without Antone Smith (who’s been ruled out with injury), Atlanta should be able to run the ball a bit in this spot.
Falcons Defense vs. Washington Offense
As mentioned above, Washington has elected to bench their franchise quarterback, Robert Griffin III, in favor of career backup Kirk Cousins in what is an extremely odd move. Because this is an Atlanta blog, I’m not going to even attempt to comment on the decision overall, but on paper, Cousins simply isn’t as good as RGIII and that’s a win for Atlanta.
The Atlanta pass defense has been better recently, lifting them to 20th in the league against the pass, but Mike Nolan will be without Thomas DeCoud in this one, and that forces the Falcons to deploy 3 rookies in the starting secondary. With that, though, Zeke Motta has likely been better than DeCoud in recent days anyway, and I’m not at all terrified of Kirk Cousins or any receiver with the exception of Pierre Garcon.
On the ground, Washington does have an elite running back in Alfred Morris, and that’s frightening. The Falcons rank just 30th against the run (yikes) at over 133 yards allowed per game, and it’ll be up to Mike Shanahan to hamstring his starting running back with a lack of meaningful touches. It’s certainly possible that Nolan stacks the box against Morris in an effort to make Cousins win the game on his own, but I wouldn’t count on it.
It’s very possible that this game could determine whether either team gets a top-3 pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. If not for the Griffin/Cousins storyline, that would’ve been the chief concern for both teams, but it’s almost a positive that Shanahan’s choice has brought some football-related mojo to the table. Either way, this one should be high-scoring (at worst) and entertaining (at best) for everyone involved.
Stay tuned for a game thread on Sunday morning, and be sure to join us in the comments throughout the day!